Ever pick the wrong line in a grocery store and wish you had picked any other line in the store? It was 4pm at Whole Foods on a Tuesday when I found myself searching for a check-out line. I walked to the very end, and got in the shortest line in the store. There was a reason the line was so short. Everyone who got in line, got out and went somewhere else. I didn’t know this, however, when I started putting my groceries on the conveyor belt.
There was just one lady in front of me. An Indian woman with her teenage daughter. I was confused for a minute because although she had a cart full of items, she wasn’t putting them on the conveyor belt. The check out lady, Maryann, came around with a scanner and scanned the woman’s flowers, reassuring the Indian gal that she didn’t have to take them out of the cart.
But then the shopper started handing Maryann items from the cart, one at a time. First was a huge bag of produce. Maryann noticed that inside the bag were different kinds of grapes. “I’m sorry, miss, I need to ring these up separately.” The reply was, “But they are all the same price.” Maryann countered with, “But for inventory purposes I need to ring them in separately because they have different plu numbers.” The woman looked very distressed.
Maryann said, “Don’t worry, I won’t let them touch the scanner.” That’s when I noticed there was a paper bag over the scanner. What’s the deal? I started to wonder.
Then the grapes came up at $4.99 per pound and the woman complained, saying they should be $3.99 per pound. She ordered her daughter to go check the price. The daughter looked very embarrassed. Maryann insisted she had to go check the price. The checker left the checkstand. NEVER a good sign.
I started to wonder how long this was going to take. People who got behind me in line left to go to another line. I wanted to leave too but all my groceries were already on the belt. Tension rose.
Maryann and the produce guy had a long conversation about the price being mismarked. Finally she came back to continue checking these people out. Then the woman sent her daughter back into the store to grab some more items. Really? You’re not done shopping and you’re in the checkout line? Come on! Show some courtesy. I sighed loudly.
The daughter looked very apologetic and even more embarrassed but left to do what her mother told her. The checkout continued with the woman handing Maryann one item at a time and Maryann having to take disparate produce items out of all the bags, somehow weigh them without touching the scanner, and then put them back into the little plastic bags.
The daughter came back with more items to scan. At this point I’d been in line about 10 minutes. Then the Indian woman asked if she could get two large cases of water. Maryann left the checkstand again with the woman so they could go discuss which cases she wanted. More people in line behind me found other lines. I was trapped. My frozen foods were starting to sweat.
I began to feel annoyed. I hate wasting my time. I hate standing in line. And I hate it when people are unprepared before they get in the checkout line. And I glared at the woman for a second, issued another loud sigh, and she looked at me. Our eyes met for a moment, then she looked down at the floor in shame.
Wait. Hang on. The negative energy between us was thick.
That’s when I started really paying attention to what was happening. Yeah, I was upset and annoyed. I knew that. But what was going on with everyone else?
I opened my energy to the other people. Maryann was feeling stressed. She knew she was keeping me waiting. The teenage daughter was feeling embarrassed and ashamed. She knew her mom was creating a problem. And the Indian woman was feeling shame.
All low vibrations. That’s when it sort of hit me. It doesn’t have to be like this. We’re all in a low vibration right now, and I don’t even really know what’s happening. All I know is that I’ve now been in line for 20 minutes and I’ve made no significant progress.
But I made a decision. I decided that even though I didn’t know or understand what this woman’s deal was, I didn’t want her to feel shame. Shame is such a low vibration. Without knowing what her situation was, I was judging her and the situation and reacting negatively. That’s not who I want to be.
I decided I could be stuck in line and feel happy, or I could be stuck in line and be upset. I immediately shifted my energy. I decided I was fine. I decided that there was no problem at all. I relaxed my body. I sent the woman some love energy. Unconditional love. There was no reason not to.
It didn’t matter that my situation could be judged as unfair and that I had the “right” to be upset. I could still choose how I felt about it. I chose love.
The daughter looked at me and I smiled. She shrugged and said, “Not what you were expecting was it?”
I replied with a smile, “I’m fine. Don’t worry about me.”
Maryann turned to me and said, “It will just be a minute. I need to get someone over here to get the big boxes of water for her.”
I said, “No sweat. I’m good.”
And the woman turned to me and said, “I’m so sorry for holding you up.”
And I said, “You’re not holding me up. I’m perfectly fine where I am. Do what you need to do.”
She relaxed. Everyone relaxed.
Now people came to get the water but Maryann realized that the two cases of water wouldn’t fit in the cart, especially not on top of the flowers, so she said, “We need to get you another cart.” Yep, Maryann and the woman left the store entirely to go outside to get another cart.
I started giggling at this point at the absurdity of the situation. The daughter laughed with me. She said to me, “Your shirt is beautiful.” I said, “Thanks!”
We waited a couple of minutes and they came back with another cart. The Indian woman asked Maryann if she could get some help putting the boxes in her car. Maryann called for backup and we waited some more.
Finally the woman paid, got her groceries, her two carts, her help and her daughter and left the store.
As I walked up to the register, Maryann pre-empted my quizzical look and said, “She’s a germaphobe. She doesn’t want any of her food touching the conveyor belt or scanner so I have to cover the scanner with a clean bag so I can weigh her produce and then make sure nothing touches anything.”
Wow. Interesting. I had instant compassion and empathy for what this woman must go through to get her needs met. And I realized it must be very difficult for her in situations like a grocery store. She knows she’s going to piss people off. She knows she’s going to delay people. She knows her fears are going to create upset in other people, but she still has to buy food and do other mundane tasks. She has to keep going.
And we all have a choice. We can make her life more difficult or we can be supportive. We can push our energy onto her so she feels ashamed or we can give her love and understanding.
Sometimes we’re so involved in our own upset that we don’t even realize that the person we’re upset with might need help or love, not derision and judgment. It’s so easy to judge. So easy to be annoyed at what others are doing TO us. But what torture are they putting themselves through?
The next time a stranger upsets and annoys you, try empathizing with them. You don’t know where they’re coming from, what struggles they have, what crosses they bear. Maybe you can relieve their burden for a moment by not adding to it.
How would you feel if you were this woman? Would you want people to be angry or understanding? Often we give empathy to those who have an obvious disability. Would you judge a man in a wheelchair if he couldn’t lift a case of water? Probably not.
But the emotional and psychological struggles people carry with them are often invisible. They are no less deserving of our compassion and understanding.
Put yourself in her shoes. Choose compassion. One day you may need it from others.